Da Capo Best Music Writing 2001: The Year's Finest Writing on Rock, Pop, Jazz, Country, and Moreby Nick Hornby
The Year's Finest Writing on Rock, Pop, Jazz, Country, and More
Welcome to the latest volume in the series that celebrates the year's best writing about music and its culture, as edited by Nick Hornby, the creator of the most famously music-obsessed hero in contemporary fiction. Hornby has selected pieces on a dazzling array of
Da Capo Best Music Writing 2001
The Year's Finest Writing on Rock, Pop, Jazz, Country, and More
Welcome to the latest volume in the series that celebrates the year's best writing about music and its culture, as edited by Nick Hornby, the creator of the most famously music-obsessed hero in contemporary fiction. Hornby has selected pieces on a dazzling array of topics from more than a hundred sourcesremarkable essays by journalists and authors who are as serious about writing as they are about music. Featuring the smartest, edgiest, richest, funniest, and just plain best work of the year, it's required reading for anyone who loves either art.
Jonathan Lethem confesses his desire for the Go-Betweens
David Rakoff witnesses Barbra's farewell
Mike Doughty debunks the myth of dangerous rock
Rian Malan travels deep into "In the Jungle"
Lorraine Ali visits the Palestinian rappers of the West Bank
Greil Marcus raises the stakes with Sleater-Kinney
Richard Meltzer remembers Cameron Crowe
Robert Gordon remembers Jeff Buckley
Sarah Vowell compares Honest Abe and Earnest Al
Nick Tosches expounds on the bonds of hipsters and hoodlums
Anthony DeCurtis approaches Johnny Cash
William Gay celebrates MerleFest
Whitney Balliett considers Django Rheinhardt
Author Biography:Nick Hornby is the author of the novels High Fidelity, About a Boy, and How to Be Good and a memoir, Fever Pitch. He also writes about music for the New Yorker. He lives in London.
Ben Schafer edited The Herbert Huncke Reader and is an editor of music books at Hal Leonard Corporation. He lives in New York City.
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Read an Excerpt
COMPILED BY STEVEN DALY,
DAVID KAMP, AND BOB MACK
The Rock Snob's
The Rock Snob is a confounding person in your life. On one hand, he (and he almost always is a he) brooks no ignorance of pop-music history, and will take violent umbrage at the fact that you've never heard of Jack Nitzsche, much less heard Nitzsche's ambitious pop-classical album St. Giles Cripplegate. On the other hand, he will not countenance the notion that you may actually know more than he about a certain area of music. If, for example, you mention that Fun House is your favorite Stooges album, he will respond that it "lacks the visceral punch of `I Wanna Be Your Dog' from a year earlier, but it's got some superb howling from Iggy and coruscating riffing from Ron Asheton, though not on the level of James Williamson's on Raw Power"this indigestible clump of words acting as a cudgel with which the Rock Snob is trumping you and marking the turf as his. The Rock Snob's Dictionary enables you to hold your own in such situations, with the added benefit of saving you the trouble of actually listening to the music.
The Rock Snob's Dictionary makes no claim to be a comprehensive reference in the vein of The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll. Indeed, just because a musician has enjoyed lasting success and critical acclaim doesn't mean he warrants inclusion here. Only persons and entities that are the psychic property of Rock Snobs make the cut. For example, there is no entry for David Crosby, because practically every person over 30 knows who he is and can hum a few bars of "Teach Your Children." However, the late Gene Clark, Crosby's colleague in the original lineup of the Byrds, warrants an entry because, while the average Joe hasn't the faintest idea who he is, the Rock Snob has fetishized him for his poor-selling post-Byrds output of country rock.
It bears mentioning that the Rock Snob is hardly some hidebound, patchouli-drenched anachronism. He is, by definition, in touchin touch with anything that will allow him to lord it over mere rock aficionados (the lightweights!). The Rock Snob's fear of calcification ensures that artists in such exotic genres as world music and hip-hop will one day enter the pantheon alongside such unimpeachables as Syd Barrett and Big Star. The editors of The Rock Snob's Dictionary will be vigilant in keeping track of such developments for future editions.
Alt.country. Self-righteous rock-country hybrid genre whose practitioners favor warbly, studiedly imperfect vocals, nubby flannel shirts, and a conviction that their take on country is more "real" than the stuff coming out of Nashville. Heavily influenced by GRAM PARSONS. Also known as the No Depression movement, after the title of an album by the SEMINAL alt.country band Uncle Tupelo (which itself purloined the title from The Carter Family song "No Depression in Heaven"). Current alt.country standard-bearers include the Jayhawks, Freakwater, and Whiskeytown, plus the Uncle Tupelo splinter groups, Wilco and Son Volt.
Anthology of American Folk Music, The. Multivolume collection, first issued by the Folkways label in 1952, of obscure and semi-obscure folk recordings as compiled by eccentric musicologist Harry Smith (1923-1991). Significant for having allegedly triggered the late-50s-early-60s "folkie" movement that gave us Bob Dylan (see also ZIMMY)and therefore, by extension, for making pop music subversive, turning the Beatles into druggies, and irreparably rending the fabric of our society.
Bacharach, Burt. Rehabilitated songwriter whose metrically and melodically unorthodox 60s popluxe hits, such as "Anyone Who Had a Heart" and "I Say a Little Prayer" (written with lyricist Hal David), were dismissed for two decades as square and Muzak-y until Rock Snobs decided in the 1990s that it was O.K. to like them again. Particularly active latter-day boosters have been Noel Gallagher of Oasis and Elvis Costello, with whom Bacharach recorded a 1998 "comeback" album. That song has a very Bacharach-esque flûgelhorn part.
Bad Brains. Hard-luck jazz-fusion weirdos from Washington, D.C., who cashed in on the New York hard-core punk scene in 1980 with their minute-and-a-half-long single "Pay to Cum." The subsequent introduction of reggae and heavy-metal elements into Bad Brains' sound did little for their sales but everything for their legend, as evidenced by the band's feverish championing by the Rock Snob collective the Beastie Boys.
Bangs, Lester. Dead rock critic canonized for his willfully obnoxious, amphetamine-streaked prose. Writing chiefly for Creem magazine, Bangs stuck two fingers down the throat of the counterculture elite and kept alive the scuzzy legacy of bands such as the Velvet Underground, the STOOGES, and the MC5. Though every Rock Snob worth his salt reveres Bangs (a heavy biography by Rock Snob author Jim DeRogatis was published earlier this year), his writing has aged rather less well than that of his less strident contemporaries Richard Meltzer and Nick Tosches. They're all pussies at Rolling Stone now, man; not a Lester Bangs among them.
Barrett, Syd. Founding member of Pink Floyd who defined the group's early sound with his juvenile, peculiarly English take on psychedelia. Already in the process of becoming rock's most celebrated acid casualty at the time of Pink Floyd's 1967 debut. Barrett left the band in 1968, managing to record two solo albums of skeletal meanderings (one of them entitled The Madcap Laughs) before drifting into the permanent twilight in which he lives today. The post-Barrett Floyd song "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" is about him.
Beefheart, Captain. Performing name of Don Van Vliet, a California-desert kid and childhood friend of Frank Zappa's whose 1969 album, Trout Mask Replica, is, Rock Snobs swear, a classic whose brilliance will reveal itself after you've listened to it 6,000 times or so. A typical Beefheart song showcased Van Vliet yawping dementedly over the intricately arranged yet chaotic-sounding playing of his backing group, the Magic Band, whose members used "wacky" stage names such as Zoot Horn Rollo and Antennae Jimmy Semens. Van Vliet retired from music in the early 80s and is now a painter. I'm feeling nostalgic, honeylet's drop some acid and put on some Beefheart.
Big Star. Anglophilic early-70s American combo whose first two albums, # 1 Record and Radio City, have Koran-like status in POWER-POP circles. Led by Memphis native Alex Chilton, who began his career as a teenager with the blue-eyed-soul boys the Box Tops ("The Letter"). Big Star recorded tunes that, while catchy, were too fraught with druggy tension to be commercialthereby guaranteeing the group posthumous "great overlooked band" mythology. Chilton, who later had a REPLACEMENTS song named after him, is now a rheumy-eyed eccentric with a reputation for self-immolating live shows.
Buckley, Tim and Jeff. Symmetrically ill-fated father-and-son artists whose early deaths, swooping voices, and Pre-Raphaelite beauty are irresistible to the romantic wing of Rock Snobbism. Jeff Buckley was eight years old when his father, a honey-voiced folkie turned jazz dabbler, died of a drug overdose, aged 28, in 1975; Buckley fils went on to become a singer-songwriter of equal repute, winning raves for his 1994 debut album, Grace, but drowned in Memphis, aged 30, before he could complete a studio follow-up.
Clark, Gene. Brooding, handsome founding member of the Byrds who quit the band in 1966 after having written songs that included "Feel a Whole Lot Better" and "Eight Miles High." (Ironically, Clark's fear of flying contributed to his exit.) Subsequent albums such as Echoes (1967) and No Other (1974) achieved cult status for their audacious blend of pop, country, and gospel, and a 1968 collaboration with banjoist Doug Dillard, The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard & Clark, is also considered a Rock Snob classic. But none of these albums sold beans, their poor commercial performance hastening Clark's alcohol-related decline and premature death in 1991.
Crawdaddy! The first mainstream rock magazine, founded in 1966, a year before Rolling Stone, by Paul Williams. Though it ceased publication in 1979, Williams revived it as a newsletter in 1993. Just about every major rock biography seems to rely heavily on ancient Crawdaddy! interviews.
Drake, Nick. Sad-sack, compulsively muted English singer-songwriter from posh background, posthumously canonized by Rock Snobs for the three plaintive, delicately wrought albums he recorded before dying, an apparent suicide, in 1974 at the age of 26. Was frequently photographed standing dolefully among trees. Achieved a measure of posthumous fame when his song "Pink Moon" was used in a Volkswagen TV commercial.
Earle, Steve. World-weary singer-songwriter, hailed in Rock Snob circles as the only contemporary country artist (as opposed to ALT.COUNTRY artist) fit to polish Hank Williams's cowboy boots. Earle made a triumphant debut with his 1986 album, Guitar Town, only to fritter away his early promise on a five-year drugs-and-drink bender. Now clean and 45 years old, he inspires a Springsteen-like reverence among fans and critics, both for his storytellin' songs and his impassioned political positions, such as his anti-death-penalty stance.
Eno, Brian. Egghead producer and electronics whiz with appropriately futuristic name and aerodynamic pate. Eno started out as the keyboard player for Roxy Music and went on to make his name as a producer (Talking Heads, Devo, U2) and pioneer of ambient music, the soundtrack for everything from aromatherapy to recreational drug use to booting up Windows 95. Eno enjoys his greatest Rock Snob status, however, for his 70s solo albums, Another Green World, Here Come the Warm Jets, and Before and After Science.
Erickson, Roky. Texas psychedelia kingpin often championed, like SKIP SPENCE, as North America's answer to SYD BARRETT. The oddball lead singer of the 13th Floor Elevators, Erickson was arrested for possession of drugs in 1968. Attempting to avoid jail time, he pleaded insanity and was committed to Texas's Rusk State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, where electroshock therapy exacerbated his eccentric tendencies more than drugs ever did. Now lives like a hobo in Austin, occasionally recording gonzo albums that actually get decent reviews.
Fender Rhodes. Electric piano with resonant, fuzzy timbre that bestows instant sensitivity upon its user. Originally a jazz-club staple, the Rhodes became ubiquitous in the squishy mid-70s, appearing on everything from jazz-rock fuzak albums to the Rolling Stones' "Fool to Cry," and has recently been revived by mood-music trendsetters such as Air and Portishead.
Gainsbourg, Serge. Raffish, joli laid French balladeer revered by kitsch-loving Rock Snobs for his sleazy-listening pop of the 1960s and 70s. Despite hangdog looks and an inability to actually sing, Gainsbourg embodied the pungent flower of French manhood in all its Gallic glory, duetting and getting busy with such hotties of the period as Brigitte Bardot and English dolly bird Jane Birkin. A less edifying collaboration was 1984's "Lemon Incest," a duet with his 12-year-old daughter, Charlotte. Gainsbourg died in 1991, five years after saying "I want to fouck you" to Whitney Houston on live television.
Hazlewood, Lee. Hard-drinkin', ultra-manly producer of Native American extraction who first made his name working with twangy guitar slinger Duane Eddy and went on to become the premier auteur of Rat Pack-offspring kitsch, writing and producing material for Dino, Dest & Billy, and, most notoriously, for Nancy Sinatra ("These Boots Are Made for Walkin'"). Following a 1973 solo debut candidly titled Poet, Fool or Bum, Hazlewood moved to Sweden and made lousy movies. Currently living in America again, where his oeuvre is being reissued by a small label owned by Sonic Youth drummer and confirmed Rock Snob Steve Shelley.
Krautrock. Blanket term for offbeat hippie-era music recorded by Germans, meaning everything from the proto-"Sprockets" stylings of Kraftwerk to the meandering soundscapes of Tangerine Dream to the starkly aggressive output of the dauntingly named bands Can, Neu, and Faust (the last of which actually recorded a song called "Krautrock"). Some of that last R.E.M. album was, like, total Krautrock!
Lo-fi. Luddite recording aesthetic championed by contemporary artists who tend toward sparse, raw production and believe that older, analog equipment produces a more "honest" or "organic" sound; or, more realistically, by artists too musically incompetent and undisciplined to record crafted, finished music. Pavement combines Phi Beta Kappa smarts with an endearing lo-fi slipshodness.
Love. Baroque mid-60s L.A. popsters led by Arthur Lee, a black hippie of prodigious talent and erratic discipline. Love's ability to combine such seemingly irreconcilable genres as psychedelia, West Coast sophisto-pop, mariachi, and garage-punk reached its apex with the band's 1967 album Forever Changes. Lee is currently serving time in a California prison on an illegal-firearms possession charge.
MC5, the. Wild-eyed, butt-ugly rhetoricians who emerged from Detroit's White Panther enclave in 1969 to debut with the insurrectionary live album Kick Out the Jams (whose title song amended this command with the word "motherfuckers!"). Kick Out the Jams and its follow-up, Back in the USA, stood in bracing contrast to the hippie noodlings offered up by other bands of the era; dropping the MC5's nameand that of its decadent Detroit neighbors the STOOGESwas positively de rigueur for British punk's class of 1977.
Mellotron. Primitive 60s synthesizer whose keys, when pressed, activate prerecorded tape loops; used to famous effect in the opening bars of "Strawberry Fields Forever." Vintage mellotrons are now purchased at great cost (approximately $10,000) by retro rockers angling to sound Beatles-esque. Oasis went too far with that mellotron on "Go Let It Out"
Mojo. Seven-year-old English magazine offering an exuberant, high-production-values take on Rock Snobbism. A typical issue offers a reverent interview with a crinkly rocker of 60s vintage, a couple of multipage, photoladen articles on suitably obscurist topics (such as the Doug Yule-era Velvet Underground, or the triumphal years of English blues plodders Free), and some sort of article on NICK DRAKE.
Moog. Squelching old-school synthesizer invented in 1965 and first popularized by Walter Carlos's bachelor-pad suite Switched-On Bach. The prodigiously corded instrument (and its Austin Powers sounding offspring, the MiniMoog) went on to become a staple of prog rock and KRAUTROCK. Today, the Moog is fetishized by instrument snobs such as Beck, as well as dance-music acts such as the Prodigy and Fatboy Slim, who remixed a track on this year's kitschy Best of Moog compilation.
Neil, Fred. Ringleted, mild-mannered folkie and early Dylan acolyte best known for his anti-urban plaint "Everybody's Talkin'," which was sung by HARRY NILSSON on the Midnight Cowboy soundtrack. Painfully shy and empathetic, Neil identified more with dolphins than with humans (his elegiac song "Dolphins" was covered by TIM BUCKLEY), and now lives in blissful anonymity in the Florida Keys, paining Rock Snobs by refusing to record new music.
Nilsson, Harry. Powerfully piped singer-songwriter equally famous for well-realized retro-pop albums such as Nilsson Schmilsson (1971) and for being John Lennon's drinking buddy/partner in crime during the latter's "Lost Weekend" period in Los Angeles. (Nilsson was once rumored to be joining the Beatles.) After he died of a heart attack in 1994, Nilsson's oeuvre acquired significant hipster cachet.
Nitzsche, Jack. Runty, cantankerous, recently deceased Phil Spector protégé who started out as a session pianist but quickly graduated to status as rock's A-list arranger, working with Neil Young, the Rolling Stones, and TIM BUCKLEY. Though his ambitions as a recording artist were extinguished with the poor sales of his 1972 opus St. Giles Cripplegate, he gained new renown as a soundtrack composer; movies as diverse as Performance, One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest, and An Officer and a Gentleman bear his spectral imprimatur. Check out that awesome Nitzsche arrangement on Springfield's "Expecting to Fly."
Nuggets. Landmark anthology LP of obscurish 60s "punk" singles by one-hit-wonder garage bands, compiled in 1972 by Lenny Kave, a scrawny, prototypical rock nerd who would shortly thereafter be a prime mover in the 70s punk movement as the guitarist for the Patti Smith Group. Early Nirvana combined Beatles-esque songcraft with Nuggets abandon.
Parks, Van Dyke. Campy, southern-born, half-pint composer-lyricist best known for being tapped by BRIAN WILSON to write the words to the Beach Boys' aborted Smile album. Though Parks's bizarre Joycean, free-associative lyrics served him well on his own albums (such as the Rock Snob orchestral-pop favorites Song Cycle  and Discover America ), his baroque tendencies (including the deathless line, "Columnated ruins domino" in the song "Surf's Up") alienated the other Beach Boys and exacerbated tensions within the group. Parks and Wilson reteamed on the 1995 album Orange Crate Art.
Parsons, Gram. Southern, Harvard-educated, trustafarian prettyboy who invented country rock by bringing his high-lonesome tastes to bear on his one album as a Byrd (1968's Sweetheart of the Rodeo, considered the first country-rock LP). Parsons and fellow Byrd Chris Hillman went on to form the Flying Burrito Brothers. A hard-livin' soul who favored tightfitting Nudie suits custom-decorated with pictures of naked girls and marijuana leaves, he greatly impressed Mick Jagger and Keith Richards (inspiring them to write "Wild Horses"), and recorded two Rock Snobratified solo albums, GP and Grievous Angel, before dying of a morphine-and-alcohol overdose in a motel in Joshua Tree, California, in 1973 at the age of 26.
Penn, Dan, and Spooner Oldham. Memphis-based songwriting duo invariably praised for being "real soulful for white boys." Their 1960s hits include "Do Right Woman Do Right Man," "Dark End of the Street," and "You Left the Water Running." Penn and Oldham have lately hit the road as performers, doing a Storytellers-like set of their oldies, plus some new songs. The raggedy-looking Spooner Oldham, whose funny name Rock Snobs like to utter just for the sheer frisson of it, is also an in-demand session keyboardist.
Perry, Lee "Scratch." Mercurial, kooky, formerly forgotten reggae shaman (born in 1936) who has enjoyed new recognition since being pronounced cool by ageless Rock Snob collective the Beastie Boys in the early 1990s. As a producer and as the front man for his own band, the Upsetters, Perry was, in the 1960s and 70s, a prime exponent of Jamaica's swashbuckling "dub" remix genre. Though his gargantuan output is as hard to penetrate as the quasi-mystical pronouncements he gives no interviewers from his home in Switzerland, he now plays to packed houses of young hipsters, few of whom actually know any of his songs.
Excerpted from Da Capo Best Music Writing 2001 by . Copyright © 2001 by Da Capo Press. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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